Accreditation agency Cognia has changed the Clarke County School District’s status from “accredited” to “accredited under review” after looking into allegations of school board members micromanaging made by then-superintendent Demond Means last year.
Cognia—formerly known as AdvancED—told interim superintendent Xernona Thomas about the change in status Apr. 24. The agency gave CCSD until December to make changes and restore accredited status.
Thomas said in a news release that the change in status will not affect graduating seniors, nor does she anticipate it affecting future graduates, since the district is committed to addressing Cognia’s directives.
“The report provides specific tasks the district can take to resolve issues and improve effectiveness. We will immediately work with the Board of Education on improvement measures and documenting changes, with the full expectation of meeting the December 2020 timeframe and having full accreditation status reinstated,” Thomas said.
Among Cognia’s findings:
• Board members are not well-versed in Robert’s Rules of Order governing how meetings are run, and sometimes violate policy by placing items on the agenda without enough advance notice.
• Board members sometimes seem unfamiliar with agenda items, as if they haven’t read materials beforehand. Work sessions are “chaotic,” and questions that should be asked during work sessions aren’t, so voting meetings are not “efficient.”
• Board members are unfamiliar with and do not always adhere to CCSD’s ethics policy.
• Committee meetings may violate open meetings laws if board members who are not on the committee show up.
• Vague concerns about the influence of unnamed “special interest groups.”
• Data is abundant, but teachers are not always told how to use it.
• Lack of trust among board members and between board members and Means was “overshadowing” the work of the board.
• Board members should undergo more training and regularly review policies, especially those related to ethics.
“In addition to our ongoing training through the Georgia School Boards Association [GSBA], the members of the BOE embrace this opportunity to improve its effectiveness,” said board president LaKeisha Gantt. “We have begun work on our norms and are committed to policy review to maximize our performance as a governance board. We will accommodate and support all aspects of the review.”
Cognia representatives visited Athens in late January to interview Thomas, current and former board members, principals and cabinet-level administrators. They also visited Cedar Shoals High School, Coile Middle School and Barrow Elementary School, watched videos of school board meetings, and read agendas and minutes.
They apparently did not interview Means, who asked Cognia in September to conduct an investigation. Nor does the report address Means’ specific allegations.
After Means said during a dispute with the board at a November meeting that it was time for him to go, the board placed Means on administrative leave and named Thomas, his chief of staff, the interim superintendent. Means remains on paid leave more than four months later.
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